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A Guide for Cleaning Tree Sap off Your Ride

A Guide for Cleaning Tree Sap off Your Ride

While the late Fall season brings refreshing, cooling temperature to most of North America, it also introduces a real pisser of a situation – leaves falling and tree sap landing on your ride. Whether you park underneath a tree or not, tree sap can creatively find its way onto your truck, car, SUV or motorcycle – whether you like it or not.

Tree sap – while important for trees, is pretty much a pain in the ass for everyone else on the planet. It is sticky, hard to remove, and even worse, usually requires the use of harsh chemical agents like Bug and Tar remover that can wreck your paint job.

With that all said, there are a few creative ways that you can remove tree sap and protect your paint from future tree-specific ‘emissions’. In today’s AvalonKing blog, we’ll provide a guide for the cleaning tree sap off your ride. Plus, we’ll explain how easy it is to protect your paint from exposure to tree sap, bug guts, bird crap and more.

What Damage will Tree Sap do to Paint?

Tree sap is highly acidic. However, there is usually some confusion between tree sap and tree resin. You see, tree sap exists in two different forms. The tree emits sap from water from the soil, through the trunk, and distributed via the leaf. The sap contains the life-giving sugars that trees need for food. These sugars also help to F-up the paint on your ride.

Resin, on the other hand, is a different composition. The resin acts more like protection against infections or insect attacks. Either way, both excretions can cause havoc on your paint, plastic trim, headlights, and other items in your car.

Initially, tree sap or resin will not damage the car paint. However, since there are multiple sugars and acids contained in these sticky items, if you ignore it, it will eventually start to eat away at surfaces like clear coats. When it does, it will etch through, leading to stains or discoloring.

So – what’s the magic number for how quick tree sap should be removed? Honestly, nobody has done the research or investigated this, mainly because there are multiple concentrations of sap – as it’s assumed that as soon as you find it, you should remove it ASAP.  

How to Avoid Tree Sap

The best way to avoid tree sap is to resist the urge of parking underneath or near trees. While we literally wrote a blog a few weeks ago about protecting your car from UV rays, and recommended doing so, it does open Pandora’s box for tree sap to fall on the vehicle.

If you live or work at a location where parking under a tree is the only option, the best way to protect the vehicle is to use a car or vehicle cover. There are several ‘universal-fit’ car covers available on Amazon for less than $40, that can last a few years of frequent use.

Steps for Removing Tree Sap from Your Vehicle

Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this article – explaining how to correctly remove this crap from your ride. Removing tree sap really depends on the grade or concentration of sap, but generally breaks down to using rubbing alcohol or a bottle of Bug and Tar remover. However, this is where many car owners quit the job, walk away, and call it a day.

And – that’s when the real damage occurs.

Rubbing alcohol and Bug and Tar remover is not friendly to clear coats and automotive parts. They are acidic themselves, and if you don’t completely wash and dry that area as recommended, it can start to cause more damage than the tree sap itself.

So, here are the steps we recommend for removing tree sap.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • (3) Microfiber towels
  • A box cutter blade (for removing tree sap on glass ONLY)
  • 1 bottle of rubbing alcohol or Bug and Tar remover
  • Supplies for washing your car (two bucket method)
  • Your muscles, perhaps a few beers, and a bucket full of patience

Here is the Process

Step 1 – Wash the Entire Vehicle

While it’s more than likely that only small areas have tree sap on the surface, it’s always best to have a completely clean surface to work your magic. It’s always a good idea to fully wash your ride, using the reliable two-bucket car washing method. This will remove loose materials, even tree sap sometimes.

Step 2 – Completely Dry the Vehicle

Standing water will cause water spots if it’s not handled quickly. So, to avoid this issue, dry the vehicle with multiple microfiber towels, a chamois, or the combination of both.

Step 3 – Locate your Target Tree Sap

When everything is clean, neat and straight on your ride, locate the area where tree sap is still stuck to the surface. If you have some painters tape, place some near that location, and follow this step throughout the entire vehicle. It’s best to know exactly where all the tree sap is before starting this process.

Step 4 – Remove the Sap

There are two products you can use to remove tree sap – rubbing alcohol or Bug and Tar remover. If you’re looking to remove tree sap on metal, rubbing alcohol tends to work best. For plastic trim, chrome, and other materials, the Bug and Tar remover is a better option.

Here is the process.

  • Use a microfiber towel and pour a few drops of the rubbing alcohol or Bug and Tar remover on that towel.
  • Dab the wet towel on the tree sap and let it soak for about 30 seconds. Keep the towel on the sap during this time.
  • Slowly rub the area until the tree sap is gone. In some cases, you’ll have to repeat this step a few times. This is where patience comes into play. You might also need to use a bit of elbow grease or even your fingernail to ‘lightly scratch’ the sap.

Step 5 – Rewash the Areas

If you read some blogs and articles on this topic, you’ll find many of these ‘experts’ recommended to just use some spray wax to clean the area. Well, the problem with this that spray wax covers up – and you don’t want the rubbing alcohol residue or Bug and Tar stuff slowly eating away at the clear coat.

So, to avoid this potential problem, wash the area as you did initially – using the two-bucket method. Follow up by drying the areas as well.

Step 6 – Protect the Paint

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So, if you don’t have a ceramic coating or PPF on your vehicle, you’ll want to reapply car wax or paint sealant on the impacted area, as that rubbing alcohol or Bug and Tar remover will likely take away the wax.

This is also a good opportunity to apply a DIY ceramic coating on the vehicle, to make it easier to remove tree sap if it happens again.

What if You Have Tree Sap on Windshields or Windows?

Tree sap doesn’t only land on your painted surfaces. Sometimes it will drop and stick on your windshield or other windows. If this happens, whatever you do, don’t use your windshield wipers. This will just spread the sticky stuff all over. It will also embed in the wipers – which introduces another whole ball of wax.

If you have tree sap on your windshield, follow the steps above, except the pre-wash. If the sap is hard, consider using a box cutting razor blade to scrape the big stuff off first. Then, use the rubbing alcohol or Bug and Tar remover to take care of the ‘hazy’ stuff. Follow up by using a glass cleaner to clean the window.

Can a Ceramic Coating Help Protect from Tree Sap?

Tree sap, bug guts, bird droppings, and other sticky stuff is very difficult to remove. However, applying a ceramic coating can reduce the stress and frustration associated with this time-consuming process. A ceramic coating provides an ultra-slippery and flat surface, that is incredibly hydrophobic. This makes it quite difficult for sticky stuff to remain stuck to this very thin layer of protection.

A properly applied DIY ceramic coating also helps to protect the surface materials underneath. Tree sap, bird droppings, and other stuff can stain paint, plastic trim, even glass windshields. And in most cases, the coating will last for a few years.

It’s a great paint protection product, especially if you’re forced to park underneath trees at work, home, or wherever you travel. If you’re looking for a great DIY ceramic coating, consider Armor Shield IX. Not only does it protect the paint, but you can apply it to pretty much everything.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.

Tim Charlet

Tim is part of the AvalonKing team as a content editor. A 30-year automotive guru, marketing super freak, and accomplished publicist & columnist, “Timmah” is also a licensed NHRA Drag Racer, a proud dad of two, and loves a good Guinness two-part pour.
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These are our recommended quantities for the respective type of vehicle. The Volume Savings can be seen besides/below.

Type of Vehicle Recommended Quantity Volume Savings
motorcycle   Motorcycle 1 bottle*
small car   Small car 1 bottle*
sedan   Sedan 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
pick-up truck   Pick-up 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
jeep   Jeep 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
suv   SUV 3 bottles* Save $70 (33%)
van   VAN 3 bottles* Save $70 (33%)
boat   Boat 4 bottles+* Save $110 (39%)

*Please note that it may be a good idea getting an extra bottle, ensuring you don't run out when doing an application.

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